He echoed the feelings of other stick and ball players by questioning whether NASCAR drivers should be included for athletic awards, especially when Jimmie Johnson won AP’s Athlete of the Year for 2010 and was a finalist for the male athlete of the year earlier this summer at the ESPY Awards.
He triggered a firestorm on his Twitter account, saying, “Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism.”
Then he added: “Guarantee he couldn’t in million years play any SPORT.”
Johnson, who used to ride in motocross races – considered one of the most-challenging athletic endeavors – challenged Tate to drive one of his cars.
Tate, who caught 21 passes has year for 227 yards and no touchdowns last season, eventually backed off – not because he now believes drivers are athletes, but because he faced a backlash from NASCAR fans.
“I’m not too familiar with NASCAR, which is my ignorance. I got grilled for my comment and I’m still getting grilled,” Tate said to XMSirius NASCAR Radio. “NASCAR fans, do not mess with them. They will eat you alive.
“I do want to apologize to the NASCAR nation. I didn’t mean it as disrespect although it may have come across that way. I guess you can call me a fan now. Apologies for my offensive comment to NASCAR fans. I actually read up on it and NO I couldn’t race a car 150 mph.”
But the debate remains.
Few would argue there are true athletes in racing. But does it take an athlete to drive a car at 200 mph? For decades, it’s a dispute that’s never been answered.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering, all the others being games.”
The dictionary defines athlete as “a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.”
Johnson is convinced he can convince Tate, too, especially if he’s able to give him a ride around the track for a few laps. He’s also happy race fans forced Tate to publicly back off this claim – even if he’s still not totally convinced whether racers are athletes.
“I took great pride in seeing our NASCAR Nation kind of put him in place,” Johnson said. “And as you watched his timeline, he quickly has changed his song and dance, and is now saying he respects the NASCAR group. So, good job everyone.”